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Blair Walsh wins another player of the week honor

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Vikings rookie Blair Walsh has already proven himself to be a good kicker, but he’s showing he can hit at big times as well.

For making last week’s game-winning, playoff-clinching field goal as time expired, he was named NFC special teams player of the week. It was his third such honor this year.

Walsh’s 54-yarder in the first quarter was his 10th of the year from at least 50, extending his own NFL record for most in a single season. He hasn’t missed from that distance this year.

His accuracy from long distance has been a key for an offense that for large parts of the year was Adrian Peterson and not much else, and that will be more important as they head into the playoffs.

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Saints signing Kristjan Sokoli, who will play OL

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The Saints are signing offensive lineman Kristjan Sokoli, his agent, Brett Tessler, tweeted.

Sokoli was a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks in 2015 and has played offensive line and defensive line. He played eight plays, all on special teams, as a rookie.

The Seahawks waived Sokoli on Aug. 30, 2016, and the Colts signed him to their practice squad as a defensive end on Sept. 26. He was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 19. The Colts waived him June 15.

The Saints will try Sokoli in the offensive line, according to Tessler.

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NFLPA gathering info about Lucky Whitehead’s release

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The Cowboys used a fire-ready-aim approach to the termination of Lucky Whitehead. The NFL Players Association will use a more deliberate approach in responding to the situation.

Then again, anything would be more deliberate than what the Cowboys did.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA have begun the process of exploring the situation, reaching out to Whitehead and his agent, David Rich, for more information.

That doesn’t mean anything will happen. Indeed, there may be nothing that can be done when a team exercises its prerogative to waive a player for off-field reasons that may be factually inaccurate.

The best argument possibly comes from paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract, which authorizes termination “if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club.” If Whitehead actually didn’t engage in the conduct that the team deemed him guilty of engaging in, the termination could be challenged.

But then what? To have any potential recovery, he’d likely have to prove he would have made it to the team’s 53-man roster come September. And that seems speculative at best.

Either way, look for nothing to happen until the waiver period expires on Wednesday, since it’s a no-harm, no-foul situation if another team claims his contract.

Also, look for Rich to join PFT Live on Wednesday to discuss one or the more bizarre NFL sets of facts in recent history.

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PFT preseason power rankings No. 1: New England Patriots

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Two weeks. 16 days. 31 individual snapshots of the various NFL franchises. One to go.

You already knew which team it would be after we unveiled No. 2 (hell, you probably knew who it was before we unveiled No. 32). The Patriots. Five-time Super Bowl winners. Two in the last three years. And, most importantly, the only defending champions to ever mash the gas in an effort to get even better.

Yes, the new G.O.A.T. has an improved roster on both sides of the ball as he tries to get his record-extending sixth Super Bowl win for a quarterback, which also would catch the Steelers for the most by any franchise. They’ll be the overwhelming pick to get there, and to win it. Which, of course, will only make it harder to do.

But do it they can. With an obsessive focus on the here and now, the Patriots never get flustered by the big picture or expectations or anything else that has caused many a contender to slip from contention. And while it would be foolish to hand the Lombardi to the Patriots without playing the 267 games that come before it officially happens, it’s hard to recall a preseason favorite who was more of a postseason favorite than the Patriots.

Biggest positive change: In an offseason with plenty of positive changes, perhaps the biggest addition for 2017 and beyond comes from Buffalo, where the Bills weren’t interested in keeping cornerback Stephon Gilmore — but the Pats were willing to pounce. And since the Patriots have seen Gilmore twice per year for five years, they’ve surely seen something they like. And now they have insurance against the eventual departure of Malcolm Butler, who is sticking around for one more year, and probably only one more year. However they use Gilmore, coach Bill Belichick knows everything Gilmore can and can’t do.

Biggest negative change: For a defending Super Bowl winner, there weren’t nearly as many as usual. The biggest name to leave was a guy no one ever expected to stay — tight end Martellus Bennett. Enter former Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who potentially will help fill the role, if he’s not overwhelmed by the Patriot Way. The addition of other receivers and running backs will help, too, as the Patriots assemble perhaps the best array of offensive weapons they’ve ever had.

Coaching thermometer: 459 below Fahrenheit. Negative 253 Celsius. Absolute zero. Belichick has the job for as long as he wants it. Not even an 0-16 disaster would get him fired, not that an 0-16 disaster would ever happen to him. The real question is whether they go 16-0 for the second time in 10 years. And indeed they could.

We’d like to have a beer with . . . Belichick. Everyone who knows him swears that when he gets away from football he’s not the cold, flat, monotonous, day-to-day bad ventriloquist whose mouth moves just enough to confirm that he’s the one who’s talking and/or breathing. So let’s get him away from football and get him a beer and talk about boats or Bon Jovi or the history of the single wing or whatever tickles his fancy and gets him to act like something other than a cyborg whose only sign of humanity is the fact that he’s gaining wrinkles and losing hair.

How they could prove us wrong: It won’t take much to prove us wrong, because any deviation from wire-to-wire No. 1 seed would prove us wrong. The only potential vulnerability may be man-to-man coverage, which seemed to work (relatively speaking) when deployed by the Houston and Atlanta defenses in the postseason. The Steelers are hoping to use it more in an effort to match up better with the Patriots, who can’t be covered effectively in zone because Tom Brady can spot and dismantle any collection of defenders aimed at covering spots and not players.

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Jack Del Rio expects Gareon Conley’s contract will be “resolved shortly”

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All but two of the Raiders rookies have reported to camp in Napa, California and head coach Jack Del Rio said he expects cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu will join them in the near future.

Conley, the team’s first-round pick, was accused of rape shortly before the draft and Cleveland police said this week that the case remains under investigation. Del Rio didn’t say if that was causing a delay in getting the contract done and didn’t detail what might be holding things up with Melifonwu, but he doesn’t expect things to drag out much longer.

“The rules and the structure are such that there’s not a great concern now in our league,” Del Rio said during an appearance on 95.7 The Game with Joe Fortenbaugh, Lorenzo Neal and Dan Dibley. “I think these issues will get resolved shortly and they’ll join the team.”

After drafting Conley, the Raiders said their research left them feeling that Conley would be cleared and Del Rio did say that the team remains “confident about the decision we made and the person we have.”

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Saints placing LB Dannell Ellerbe on IR, waiving him when healthy

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The Saints are placing linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on injured reserve after he failed his physical because of a foot injury, according to Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Per Katzenstein, the Saints will waive Ellerbe once he’s healthy, giving him a chance to catch on elsewhere.

New Orleans put Ellerbe on the physically unable to perform list Monday after he missed part of the offseason program with the foot injury.

Ellerbe has played eight seasons, the past two with the Saints, with 42 career starts.

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Dolphins sign Alterraun Verner, place Koa Misi on injured reserve

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The Dolphins added a veteran corner and lost a veteran linebacker on Tuesday.

According to multiple reports, the team has signed cornerback Alterraun Verner and placed linebacker Koa Misi on injured reserve.

Verner worked out for the team on Monday and the Dolphins were looking a bit thin on cornerback depth for much of the offseason. Verner was released by the Buccaneers early in the offseason three years after signing a big free agent deal that didn’t result in much on-field production, so there’s no guarantee he’ll provide it.

Misi’s status for the upcoming season has been in doubt for some time because of a neck injury, although coach Adam Gase said on Tuesday morning that he was confident Misi will play again. Tuesday’s move means he won’t be playing for the Dolphins in 2017 as players need to be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return to action.

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Kelvin Benjamin “where he needs to be” with weight

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Panthers coach Ron Rivera voiced some displeasure with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s weight in April and the wideout’s condition became a running storyline in Carolina throughout their offseason program.

It wasn’t the first time that Benjamin’s weight elicited a negative response from Rivera, which, along with the time of year, explains why the story blew up as it did. It doesn’t look like we’ll see a third round during training camp.

Rivera said on Tuesday, via Steve Reed of the Associated Press, that “where he needs to be” in terms of his weight. Benjamin will now move on to trying to improve on his 63 catches for 941 yards and seven touchdowns from the 2016 season.

Rivera also said that tackle Daryl Williams weighed in at the desired number. Williams is competing with rookie Taylor Moton for the starting job on the right side.

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Cowboys agree to contract extension with La’el Collins

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For the first time in awhile, the Cowboys have positive news to report.

They agreed to a two-year, $15.4 million contract extension, including $4 million to sign, with right tackle La’el Collins, according to Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The $7.7 million average ties for third-highest for a right tackle in the league behind Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson ($11.3 million) and Detroit’s Ricky Wagner ($9.5 million) and ties with Washington’s Morgan Moses ($7.7 million). The deal, per Hill, includes a $2 million escalator if Collins plays 85 percent of the snaps.

Collins was projected as a first-round pick out of LSU in 2015, but the death of a former girlfriend under mysterious circumstances a few days before the draft caused his stock to drop. Collins, who went undrafted at the request of his agent, Deryk Gilmore, was cleared of any involvement and chose to sign a three-year, $1.5 million contract with the Cowboys as a free agent.

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Picking the eventual NFL MVP pick

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You can bet on plenty of things involving the NFL, including not only things that happen during games but things that happen when a bunch of middle-aged sportswriters cast votes.

The officially NFL MVP award will be the result of a 50-person vote, and odds have been set on it. On Tuesday’s PFT Live, Barstool Big Cat and yours truly picked three potential MVP candidates each. By rule (which makes it sound official and thus legitimate), at least one of the picks had to be a non-quarterback.

Take a look and a listen and then tell Big Cat why he’s wrong about his picks in the comments. And then make your own picks for NFL MVP in the comments.

Or don’t. I mean, it’s not mandatory. I’m just trying to give you something to do as you otherwise watch the clock and wait for the moment that you can get the hell out of the cubicle and go home.

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Stephen Jones confirms “we’re moving on” without Lucky Whitehead

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The Cowboys said they were cutting wide receiver Lucky Whitehead on Monday, but the transaction never became official and Whitehead did not make it onto the league’s waiver wire.

After the team’s announcement, the Prince William County (VA) police announced that  Whitehead had been cleared of a petit larceny charge from a June arrest and a subsequent failure to appear in court because the man they arrested and who gave them Whitehead’s personal information in lieu of identification was not Whitehead. The Cowboys aren’t reversing course, though.

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday that the move was a “culmination” of many issues with Whitehead since he joined the team and said there wouldn’t be a reunion on Tuesday.

“We made a decision. We’re moving on,” Jones said, via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett also met with the media and said that the decision was made “in the best interest” of the team.

Whitehead will become a free agent if he isn’t claimed off of waivers.

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Three Lions open camp on non-football injury list

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Three Lions, all of whom have an important part to play in training camp, have been placed on the non-football injury list: Punter Sam Martin, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and cornerback Teez Tabor.

Martin is coming off a very good season and is as important as anyone to the Lions’ special teams, but he suffered an ankle injury this month. Kouandjio was acquired after left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a shoulder injury, and the Lions were hoping Kouandjio could compete for the starting job. And Tabor, a second-round rookie, is expected to get significant playing time.

In addition to Decker, the Lions also put five other players on the physically unable to perform list: DE Armonty Bryant, S Don Carey, S Rolan Milligan, OT Corey Robinson and DE Jeremiah Valoaga.

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Jaguars sign CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste

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Stanley Jean-Baptiste has bounced around since the Saints made him a second-round pick in 2014. The cornerback hopes he finally has found a home in Jacksonville.

“I’m excited for another opportunity,” Jean-Baptiste, a Miami native, said in a press release. “It’s been a year since I’ve been on the field. I’m just happy to show what I can do. It feels really good to be back in Florida.”

He has spent time with Kansas City, Seattle and Detroit besides New Orleans. Jean-Baptiste most recently was with the Chiefs, signing on May 19 before being released June 15.

Jean-Baptiste has played in four career games, all with the Saints during his rookie season.

Jean-Baptiste, 6-3, 218, has previously spent time with Kansas City, Seattle and Detroit after originally being selected by New Orleans in the second round (58th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft. Jean-Baptiste has appeared in four career games, all of which were with the Saints during his rookie season. Most recently, Jean-Baptiste was signed by Kansas City on May 19, 2017, before being waived on June 15.
 
The Jaguars now have 90 players on their roster.
 

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Packers announce several changes and additions to player personnel department

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The Packers announced several changes and additions to their player personnel department Tuesday.

John Wojciechowski, entering his 22nd season in the NFL, was promoted to director of pro personnel. He previously served as a college scout for the Packers from 2012-16.

Richmond Williams, who is entering his 10th season with the team, was promoted to pro scout. He served as a college scout for five seasons after being the team’s National Football Scouting representative for four years.

Luke Benuska, who joined the Packers as a scouting intern in 2016, has been promoted to pro scout. He worked in the football recruiting office at his alma mater, Texas Christian University, in 2016.

Joe Hueber, entering his third season with the Packers, was promoted to college scout after serving as a scouting assistant in 2015-16.

Matt Malaspina, entering his 20th NFL season, was hired as a college scout after spending the past 12 seasons with the 49ers.

Charlie Peprah was promoted to college scout after working as a scouting assistant for the Packers in 2016.

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Lucky Whitehead: Cowboys pretty much called me a liar

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Lucky Whitehead expressed disappointment the Cowboys didn’t believe his side of the story.

Let’s not sugarcoat anything,” Whitehead told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. “I was pretty much being called a liar.”

Whitehead said he doesn’t know how someone had his social security number and driver’s license number, which is why police in Virginia accused the receiver of shoplifting in June. Charges were dropped when Whitehead proved he wasn’t in Virginia until several hours after the convenience store incident.

“As far as the whole situation went down, I was blindsided,” Whitehead said. “I didn’t know about a warrant that came about in the first place clearly because I wasn’t the person arrested. The head person [in the Cowboys organization] I told, no one backed me up. No one had my back in the whole situation. I knew about it at what? 12:45. By 2:30, I’m released.”

Jason Garrett daily preaches accountability and responsibility, and the Cowboys have signs around The Star with the same message.

“As far as the stuff that was preached [by the Cowboys], I was left out to dry,” Whitehead said. “You see the mantras that are all around The Star. I mean, by 12:45 I figured out that this is even going on. By 2:30 I was released. What’s the real reason? Let me clear my name. I didn’t have time to do that.

“I was pretty much called a liar.”

Although Whitehead understandably doesn’t like the way his parting happened, the Cowboys probably did him a favor. He was a long shot to make the roster after the Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round.

The Cowboys are expected to make his release official today, with Whitehead becoming a free agent if he clears waivers.

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Michael Vick in Chiefs camp as a coaching intern

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Andy Reid has given Michael Vick a chance before.

Now, the Chiefs coach is giving his former quarterback a chance to be a coach.

The Chiefs have announced via the team’s Twitter account that Vick was working as a coaching intern during training camp.

While in Philadelphia, Reid became the safe harbor for Vick after his conviction and imprisonment on federal dog fighting charges. He played five years there, and was their primary starter from 2010-12.

With Kansas City, he’ll have a chance to work with first-rounder Patrick Mahomes, though it’s unclear at this point if his instruction will extend to Mahomes’ hairstyle.

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